Elton Mayo's Hawthorne Experiments

Early Exploration of Workplace Motivation

Interaction and cooperation improve productivity.

© iStockphoto/lisafx

What causes workers to be more productive? Researchers have asked this question for years. In fact, pioneering work began in the 1920s as an attempt to discover ways to increase production efficiency – and then led both to the founding of the human relations school of management, and to the development of many of the motivational tools that are used today.

At the center of this work was Elton Mayo, a Harvard researcher. He looked at the results of early motivation experiments and concluded that psychological and social factors played a larger role in productivity than physical elements.

Experiments at Hawthorne

In 1927, researchers were trying to determine the optimal amount of lighting, temperature, and humidity for assembling electronic components at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant. The results showed that lighting had no consistent effect on production. Researchers were frustrated to discover that increasing light increased output, but reducing light also increased output. The common factor, it seemed, was that something in the work environment was changed, and that positive effects were then observed.

After thoroughly examining the results, Elton Mayo and his fellow researchers determined that workers weren't responding to the change in lighting conditions, but instead were reacting to the fact that they were being observed by the experimenters. This phenomenon became known as the Hawthorne effect. The workers' awareness that researchers were measuring their productivity was sufficient to increase productivity.

This idea is similar in philosophy to the Pygmalion effect  , which states that high expectations lead to high outcomes.

The identification of the Hawthorne effect led to...

... for the complete article:

Mind Tools Club members, click here.

Join the Mind Tools Club to finish this article AND get 1,000 more resources

Join now for just $1, first month

"When I started using Mind Tools, I was not in a supervisory position. Now I am. Along with that came a 12% increase in salary." – Pat Degan, Houston, USA
Add this article to My Learning Plan

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.